Rise of the middle age private renters leaves many in despair, study finds

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THE prospect of spending middle age and beyond renting in the private sector may appeal to few, but for people aged over 35 it is a growing reality, according to new research from Stirling University.

More people are renting beyond that age than ever before, according to the study, and while they experience many of the problems familiar to their younger counterparts, they also face their own distinct challenges.

These challenges are often overlooked in analysis of the private rented sector, which is why the team led by experts from the University of Stirling specifically chose to focus on the 35-54 age group.

According to figures published by the Department of Work & Pensions in 2019, the private rented sector in the UK now accommodates more than 4.5 million households. In the 10 years to April 2018, the proportion of private renters in the 35-54 age group almost doubled and now accounts for 41% – up from 23%.

The study found that as well as encountering similar issues as younger renters – unaffordable rents, insecure housing,  and poor quality properties – older renters also experienced distinct issues, such as the impact on family life, challenges in adapting properties for age-related health and mobility impairments, and being aged out of a mortgage.

While younger people encountering a difficult living experience can often think that things will get better, the Beyond Generation Rent report found that many of the over-35 study group felt a sense of hopelessness at their situation.

“Much academic and popular attention is paid to so-called ‘Generation Rent’ – the growing number of younger people trapped in the private rented sector. However, much less is known about the experiences of renters over 35, so this research seeks to begin addressing that gap,” said Dr Kim McKee, senior lecturer and head of housing at Stirling University’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

The qualitative research study interviewed private renters from across the UK. Many had experienced forced moves, periods of homelessness, discrimination, and poor and illegal practice, highlighting that those issues are not restricted to younger renters. This was especially true amongst lower-income groups.

For families with children, there were another set of challenges, as the study found that some landlords would not allow children to live at their properties. Others found themselves in shared accommodation that was not always an appropriate environment for children to visit or stay in.

“While some of our participants retained an element of positivity about the flexibility and benefits offered by private renting, a greater number felt trapped and powerless to transform their situation,” McKee added. “The challenges of being able to save enough to exit the sector or even move to a different rented property were clear, and compounded by low wages, insecure work arrangements and the impact of welfare reform.

“Families with children face particular pressures, with many struggling to make a home in the private rented sector because of an inability to personalise the property or keep pets, or from the insecurity of not knowing how long they will be able to stay there and put down roots. This is a key policy issue given the rising number of families with children in the private rented sector.

“Tenants want safe, secure and affordable homes but for some private tenants that is just not within their reach as our report highlights.”

The report was co-authored by McKee, along with Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita and Professor Moira Munro, both of the University of Glasgow. The study was carried out on behalf of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), which is jointly funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.



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